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Editorial: Vote yes on Measure B

Parcel tax will preserve educational opportunities for Menlo Park students

Oak Knoll Elementary School first grader Emilia washes her hands as her classmates sit at socially distanced desks on the second day of in-preson instruction in Menlo Park on Sept. 29, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

One year ago last month, roughly 535 Menlo Park City School District students donned masks and backpacks as they returned to the district's three elementary schools for in-person learning. Oak Knoll, Encinal and Laurel were the first public schools in San Mateo County to reopen since schools shut down during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

This fall, schools that had been shuttered for over a year reopened across the country, as in-person learning albeit with pandemic protocols still in place -- has once again become the norm, especially in areas with high vaccination rates like the Bay Area. The anticipated approval of the Pfizer vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds will soon allow many more children to get vaccinated against COVID.

But coronavirus aside, the potential for disruption in local schools still looms.

Menlo Park City School District officials say they face a budget shortfall should voters fail to approve a parcel tax on the Nov. 2 ballot, Measure B, which would add $193 annually onto the current parcel tax rate of about $405. The initiative, which requires two-thirds voter approval to pass, would replace Measure X, which passed in 2017 with an initial annual rate of $360 per parcel and expires in July 2024. Measure X has brought in $2.83 million in annual revenue, while Measure B would raise $4.6 million annually for the K-8 district. The new parcel tax would sunset after 12 years, expiring in 2033.

The district, like others throughout the state, has placed parcel taxes on the ballot to bridge a funding gap that has persisted since the passage of Proposition 13 in the 1970s, according to district officials. It was determined that 18 cents from each property tax dollar in Menlo Park would go toward the school district, a percentage that is unchangeable. As a result, property taxes only cover 62% of the district's budget; the district relies on local sources for 88% of its total budget.

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The district implemented about $1.8 million in cuts in the 2021-22 fiscal year budget -- and another $2 million between 2017 and 2021 -- and district officials communicated before the passage of Measure X that it was a temporary solution to address long-standing financial needs. Expenses are outpacing revenue growth due to increased enrollment over the past 15 years, teacher pay raises and pandemic-related expenses such as additional staff and personal protective equipment, according to the district.

Should Measure B fail, the district would have to cut an additional $3 million from its budget, according to the ballot argument in favor of the initiative. No decisions have been made about what might be cut, but the school board has discussed increasing class sizes and making cuts to librarian programs, world language courses and physical education teachers, with classroom teachers then becoming responsible for PE. The passage of Measure B will not enable the district to add programs; rather, it would allow for the continuation of current programs without disruption at a time when children are still recovering both emotionally and academically.

The Almanac recommends a yes vote on Measure B.

The district proposed Measure B after discussing past parcel tax measures with voters and learning they didn't want frequent parcel tax elections or evergreen taxes, such as the ones proposed with measures A and C, which were voted down. Officials have sought to balance the budget with previous cuts, and the district's highly rated schools have been a primary factor in drawing families to move to the area, driving up home values in the process. The district initially began offering in-person learning to kindergartners and first graders in September 2020 while also continuing distance learning, and officials have been able to continue safely providing face-to-face education as schools have returned to a semblance of a "normal" full school year this fall.

Formal arguments submitted against the measure which contend that the district doesn't "need" more parcel tax revenue because revenues have been up $12.2 million in the last five years and because enrollment has decreased fail to tell the full story. District officials have effectively communicated why there is a need for the funding and attribute the decline in enrollment to the pandemic, arguing it is temporary the city of Menlo Park has proposed gradually adding 3,000 housing units to comply with state mandates, nearly all of which would be within MPCSD boundaries.

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As we near the start of the third year of the pandemic, the last thing local families, students and educators need is the emotional and financial strife that losing teachers and essential programs would bring. Vote yes on Measure B.

The Almanac publishes guest opinions, editorials and letters to the editor online and in print. Submit signed op-eds of no more than 750 words or letters to the editor of up to 350 words to [email protected] The weekly print deadline is Tuesday at noon.

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Editorial: Vote yes on Measure B

Parcel tax will preserve educational opportunities for Menlo Park students

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Sun, Oct 17, 2021, 8:53 am

One year ago last month, roughly 535 Menlo Park City School District students donned masks and backpacks as they returned to the district's three elementary schools for in-person learning. Oak Knoll, Encinal and Laurel were the first public schools in San Mateo County to reopen since schools shut down during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

This fall, schools that had been shuttered for over a year reopened across the country, as in-person learning albeit with pandemic protocols still in place -- has once again become the norm, especially in areas with high vaccination rates like the Bay Area. The anticipated approval of the Pfizer vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds will soon allow many more children to get vaccinated against COVID.

But coronavirus aside, the potential for disruption in local schools still looms.

Menlo Park City School District officials say they face a budget shortfall should voters fail to approve a parcel tax on the Nov. 2 ballot, Measure B, which would add $193 annually onto the current parcel tax rate of about $405. The initiative, which requires two-thirds voter approval to pass, would replace Measure X, which passed in 2017 with an initial annual rate of $360 per parcel and expires in July 2024. Measure X has brought in $2.83 million in annual revenue, while Measure B would raise $4.6 million annually for the K-8 district. The new parcel tax would sunset after 12 years, expiring in 2033.

The district, like others throughout the state, has placed parcel taxes on the ballot to bridge a funding gap that has persisted since the passage of Proposition 13 in the 1970s, according to district officials. It was determined that 18 cents from each property tax dollar in Menlo Park would go toward the school district, a percentage that is unchangeable. As a result, property taxes only cover 62% of the district's budget; the district relies on local sources for 88% of its total budget.

The district implemented about $1.8 million in cuts in the 2021-22 fiscal year budget -- and another $2 million between 2017 and 2021 -- and district officials communicated before the passage of Measure X that it was a temporary solution to address long-standing financial needs. Expenses are outpacing revenue growth due to increased enrollment over the past 15 years, teacher pay raises and pandemic-related expenses such as additional staff and personal protective equipment, according to the district.

Should Measure B fail, the district would have to cut an additional $3 million from its budget, according to the ballot argument in favor of the initiative. No decisions have been made about what might be cut, but the school board has discussed increasing class sizes and making cuts to librarian programs, world language courses and physical education teachers, with classroom teachers then becoming responsible for PE. The passage of Measure B will not enable the district to add programs; rather, it would allow for the continuation of current programs without disruption at a time when children are still recovering both emotionally and academically.

The Almanac recommends a yes vote on Measure B.

The district proposed Measure B after discussing past parcel tax measures with voters and learning they didn't want frequent parcel tax elections or evergreen taxes, such as the ones proposed with measures A and C, which were voted down. Officials have sought to balance the budget with previous cuts, and the district's highly rated schools have been a primary factor in drawing families to move to the area, driving up home values in the process. The district initially began offering in-person learning to kindergartners and first graders in September 2020 while also continuing distance learning, and officials have been able to continue safely providing face-to-face education as schools have returned to a semblance of a "normal" full school year this fall.

Formal arguments submitted against the measure which contend that the district doesn't "need" more parcel tax revenue because revenues have been up $12.2 million in the last five years and because enrollment has decreased fail to tell the full story. District officials have effectively communicated why there is a need for the funding and attribute the decline in enrollment to the pandemic, arguing it is temporary the city of Menlo Park has proposed gradually adding 3,000 housing units to comply with state mandates, nearly all of which would be within MPCSD boundaries.

As we near the start of the third year of the pandemic, the last thing local families, students and educators need is the emotional and financial strife that losing teachers and essential programs would bring. Vote yes on Measure B.

The Almanac publishes guest opinions, editorials and letters to the editor online and in print. Submit signed op-eds of no more than 750 words or letters to the editor of up to 350 words to [email protected] The weekly print deadline is Tuesday at noon.

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